To Market! To Market! To Buy…Mangoes!

We recently heard from our language tutor that Niger has declared that they are experiencing a famine. But we really don’t experience the effects of this in the city of Niamey. The people in villages may be struggling to survive, while the city (where we live) has food. This reality is difficult to understand, but nevertheless our family is not suffering for food.

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Being mindful of this, one highlight for me is being able to buy local fruit, vegetables and eggs at the market. There are many roadside stands to choose from, but we have a particular stand that we prefer. It is a little off the beaten path, but we can find all of our “fresh things” we need there. Now that we are familiar, the vendor seems to know what we like and goes out of his way to keep us happy. I like to ask where the fruit is from, and buy what is grown in Niger whenever possible. Let’s keep this economy moving, I like to think to myself, one grapefruit at a time! 

Right now – it is mango season.

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Look at all these mangoes!!!!

Try not to be jealous, but right now I can buy a kilo of mangoes (that’s about 3-4 of these beautiful mangoes) for 500 cfa = which is a little less than one American dollar!

Yum! Now I need some creative ways to eat them…recipes anyone?

Thinking About Communication & Learning Things the Hard Way

Communication is one of the things I think about a lot. And, now that we are on the other side of the planet from so many people I love dearly, I think about communication now more than ever!

I’ll be honest, thinking about this has given me stress since our arrival. I find myself wanting to write letters and share little tidbits throughout each week, though I don’t have any real method or order to do it, or even the time for it! For someone like me who strongly believes in the importance of communication in relationships, this “stress” is a very real battle! I realize we must fully invest our lives here, but I cannot ignore this inner urge to stay connected.

So, I have an idea to help me follow through. I simply needed a plan. I hope it will be a blessing to you – those who read this blog and our email updates, and who choose to follow our ministry here. And I also hope this will help me satisfy my desire to connect our lives here with the world we left behind.

My plan: I’d like to share here on this blog short “snapshots” of little things we see or learn here, without the pressure to write an entire blog article. This will be short and sweet, with photos and insights gained while living everyday life here in West Africa.

Without further ado – here is a quick look at something we “tried” last week: Hosting a dinner with a Tuareg family!

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This family lives right outside our front door, within our small walled compound. The mother and daughter do not speak French and the father only speaks a little bit of French. This has made our “co-habitation” somewhat challenging. But we wanted to extend our friendship to them by hosting a meal.

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We asked a few questions of a missionary friend here who works with the Tuareg people and we followed the advice. Invite them to our terrace (instead of inside at the table), men on one mat, women on the other. Simple food. Voila!

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Ruth and I shared some pens and paper to draw pictures and identify things in English, French and Tamajaq languages. Amie (the wife) wrote our names in Tamajaq, and she gave Ruth and I small beaded bracelets as gifts! Meanwhile Andy was trying to speak with Shorib (the husband) in French.

Here’s the funny thing – they hardly ate anything! Seriously, I wondered if I had done something wrong…here I had made plenty, and the food was simple enough (chicken peanut sauce with rice) but they just hardly ate more than five bites! It was so unexpected!

Upon investigation afterwards, what might have happened – according our local friends – is that the Tuareg are private and do not like eating in front of people. So until they are completely free and comfortable with people, they do not like to eat in front of them. What we could have done, then, is give them a large platter of food to take back to their shelter to eat privately. The other theory is that they simply did not like the food! And in this culture, apparently, it is completely acceptable to just not eat what is served.

Who knew? I guess sometimes you just have to learn things by stepping out and trying!

 

 

Dear Nathaniel, Jonathan and Ruth…

The holidays give me a chance to think a lot about the many blessings in my life. Usually this brings me to tears just thinking about my family – my incredible parents, my selfless husband and my beautiful kids. Oh those kids… how do they put up with me? With us? With our crazy life? Yet they do it. They follow our lead as we are missionaries living a very un-american lifestyle. Yes, they sometimes complain, but mostly they are courageous and have great attitudes.

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L to R: Jonathan, Ruth, Nathaniel (2011)

Grays 2014 (24 of 37)

(2014)

Recently the leader of our mission (SIM) wrote a letter to the children of missionaries (Missionary Kids, or “MK’s”) in honor of our mission’s Founder’s Day. For those who are walking with us on this journey, I really want to share it with you. Many of you are praying for our kids. You are truly concerned for them and you ask about them more than anything else! I get it. And I love this about you! Thank you for loving them and for caring about them like you do.

I am sharing part of this letter with you here because I think you will appreciate it. We are honored to serve with SIM because this is the heart of our leadership. I hope you know that we agree with  you, with our mission’s International Director (Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko), and we strive to honor our kids as we follow this calling.

[For the complete letter, click on this link: letter-to-sim-mks_2016foundersday]

From Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko, SIM International Director:

     This letter is for you if you are a child of missionaries past or present, from any of the missions which flowed into SIM over the years, whether your parents served during your adulthood or childhood, and for any duration of service. This year’s thanksgiving, celebration and prayers is for you. Your personal contribution to the making of disciples, indeed, to the emergence and growth of the church in all corners of the world, is as incalculable as it is invisible.

      Therefore, on this Founders’ Day, the SIM worldwide community is pausing to affirm and acknowledge the remarkable role you have played. We celebrate and give thanks for you. Perhaps you have not been privileged to glimpse the result of your parents’ work, to experience the joy of seeing the fruit of their labour. I assure you that their labour and your sacrifice have never been in vain. That I am the one sending this letter to you gives testimony to that fact. I committed my life to Christ while attending a mission school established by SIM, where I was discipled by a missionary. As a product of SIM ministry over many years, and now not only serving in SIM but leading SIM globally, you can rejoice that your contribution and your experiences have never been in vain. Christ has the victory. I, and millions of others like me, bear testimony to this victory. Because of you and your family, many more, like myself, can understand God’s good news. Thank you.

      You were born into a family that, in the course of your life, carried the gospel to others, and this necessitated personal sacrifice, which I acknowledge by this letter. We celebrate with gratitude your service alongside your parents. Often the focus of mission work is on your parents and their cross-cultural ministry. However, at times you bore the weight of the calling of God on your parents’ lives; thus you have made sacrifices that may have gone unacknowledged by anyone. All children are impacted by their parents’ vocation, whether in missions or not. Yet the impact of a missionary vocation on a family is unique. We acknowledge your own commitment and contributions to the work that was done or is being done by your parents. Perhaps you were active in the work in tangible ways, or you accepted situations into which you were entrusted that allowed your parents to do their work. You may be one who has experienced suffering or adversity, perhaps from separation from your parents at an early age. Some have had close encounters with diseases, natural disasters, civil unrest, or other hazards.

       We acknowledge the price that you may have paid so that the gospel of Christ’s saving grace can be preached to a dying world. We celebrate your victories. While growing up in cultures that were not your parents’, many have gone on to use those experiences as stepping stones to greater things. Many of you have achieved remarkable things for yourselves, your families, your communities, for the church and for the gospel. For some, growing up in another culture was not always positive; for others, it is one of the greatest gifts from their parents. I hope this is your experience, and even if not, I am thankful that you are still with us to see the result. We celebrate your accomplishments and the accomplishments of MKs all over the world.”

So, thank you for loving our kids with us! I am deeply thankful for you!

Here are some pictures of our own kids over the years….

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(2012)

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(2013)

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(2012)

 

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(2012)

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(2012)

 

Parlez-vous Francais?

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We are 2/3 finished with our one year French study program. With one class to go, we still feel quite deficient, yet we are told by our professors that we are doing well and “right on time” with our learning. Our brains are FULL of information – grammar, vocabulary, conjugations, idiomatic phrases – and now it needs to begin to flow out of our mouths!

Practice. Practice. Practice.

With that said, we thought some of our family and friends who are on this journey with us would fancy a peek into our world a bit with this…so here are some video links to watch us speak french. These are NOT impressive. In truth they are pretty embarrassing, but like I said they are a glimpse. Our whole family gave presentations at the end of July and we recorded them here. So…Enjoy!

Nathaniel – “Les Sports” (5:17 min) The Sports

Jonathan – “Les Animaux” (3:13 min) The Animals

Ruth – “La Petite Sirène” (2.39 min) The Little Mermaid

[The kids spent the month of July with a tutor, working individually on their french. These presentations were given to a small group in our classroom.]

Andrew – Presentation given for part of our class final (10:38 min)

[Andy’s topic was to share a story about a refugee couple who settled in Canada.]

Nikki – Presentation given for part of our class final (6:11 min)

[Nikki’s topic was to summarize the impact of bees on agriculture and how their decline is affecting Canada.]

Well, all of this is a bit unsettling…I feel quite vulnerable sharing these! But, then again, this whole entire process of learning a new language as an adult is utterly humbling.

We read children’s books.

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We babble like children.

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And one older gentleman who has watched many people learn this language, warned us right away that we would “look and feel as ridiculous as grown-ups trying to ride a big wheel”.

great-big-wheel-race-nyc(photo credit: Nifty NYC)

Therefore, I will share these with you dear friends and family, knowing full well that you also have your own priceless – oftentimes humbling! – treasures of “growing pains” in your life.

Let’s all enjoy the ride together!

 

My Heart Marches Ahead of Me: Playing Catch-up

Andy and I will soon be 45 and 44 years old, and have been married 19+ years.  In the early days of our marriage, we dreamed of many things for our lives – serving God together by owning a coffee shop, serving God together as college campus ministers, serving God together on a church staff, and also serving God together as international missionaries.

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We have now done all of these things – minus the coffee shop dream, (though we still love coffee and coffee shops so maybe there is a future in that one yet?)

“Serving God together” has been the steady common denominator. On our wedding day we asked Andy’s brother and his wife to sing the song “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” – this was, and still is, our heart beat!

Here we are now in Sherbrooke, Quebec (Canada). Two months already! We have experienced lots of French language study, meeting new people, navigating a new city, finding a church, grocery store, and establishing daily patterns.

And though we feel confident that God has led us, and that this is another dream-come-true, one that aligns with our heart beat – IT HAS BEEN SO VERY HARD. This surprised me a bit, I have to admit.

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God has captured my heart, so I gladly accept the idea of sacrifice and serving others and living overseas and giving my life away. Because it’s God’s heart! And I love to do what God loves for me to do. This (somewhat) brave heart of mine has leaped forward and embraced this calling to live in Niger, and all of the sacrifices that come along with it.

Which seems to cause problems for the rest of me – my body, mind and emotions. (Thank you very much, oh heart of mine!)

You see, we set out for this year in Canada and even dubbed it “the year of sacrifice” for our family. (I know, rather audacious…but we were trying to prepare ourselves!) The five of us understood this to mean we were entering into a designated time of trial – language acquisition by immersion, leaving all things familiar and beloved, and only dipping into the culture here for one year before a more settled life could happen in Niger. This was our “planned sacrifice”, so to speak.

Now that we are here, it is comical to think we could prepare for all that “sacrifice” even means! Andy said to me the other day, after we had dealt with an unexpected difficulty, “You know Nik, we don’t even know what it means to sacrifice.” Ouch. I mean, I feel like I have given up A LOT to walk this road. Comfort, safety, family & friends being nearby, financial control, to name just a few things. I know how to sacrifice! Right?

But I don’t. Not really. I read recently from Oswald Chambers that in our human nature “we want to choose the place of our own sacrifice.” Like a Christianity buffet – “I’ll take this difficulty and that trial, and a little bit of suffering, but I don’t like the way this painful experience looks, so I’ll just pass for now”. We like to control our lives.

In some ways it is beautifully innocent! We follow our hearts and the convictions we have, but then we naturally feel “upset” and “surprised” when God allows unexpected sacrifices to mingle in with our choices. But how could we have known? There is no way to fully anticipate everything, and I don’t believe God wants us to think that far ahead anyway. This is the human experience. This is how trust is built.

So, here we are. And the “rest of me” – my body, mind and emotions – are playing catch-up to this brave heart of mine! “Wait for me, oh brave heart!” There are challenges we have faced already that we didn’t expect. The biggest one has been walking with our kids through really, really hard stuff because of moving and living in a foreign culture. I view being a missionary as a great honor, yet they are old enough to know what they left behind, and the cost of following Jesus as foreign missionaries affects them uniquely and personally. Understanding this through their tear-filled eyes, and asking them to keep going, has been a personal sacrifice I didn’t see coming.

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2014 kids

boys with Chistiansons

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There is good news in all of this! [I promise I didn’t chronicle this aspect of my journey to receive pity] On the contrary, I know I am learning priceless pearls of truth. More accurately, the Truth I have known in God’s Word is becoming more real to me through our experience. I’m clinging to my Savior with more conviction than ever before, and I feel His sweet Presence and friendship daily. He answers me when I call, and His peace truly is my inheritance.

Hebrews 12:1-3   

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

James 1 4

My Fear of Leaving Beach Balls Behind

There is a haunting story – I’m told it’s a true story – about two families and one beach ball. It left a strong impression on me when I first heard it, but it especially keeps coming to mind as we are in the final throes of our departure.

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The story goes like this… two missionary families (from different mission agencies) were living in a remote place, side-by-side, surviving life in a difficult place as they served the Lord in that land. Both families lived on the same compound, had children who had become special friends, and both families loved each other deeply. The country in which they were serving experienced a devastating and dangerous political situation, which caused them to consider whether or not to stay in their work. There was a night when one family wrestled with the decision to leave, and their mission agency agreed that they should go. Right away. As in, that very night in the middle of the night! There wasn’t time for goodbyes. All they could do was pack their things and helicopter out. In an effort to at least let the other family know what happened, they took a sharpie pen and wrote a goodbye message on a beach ball, and left it for the other family. Off they went. As the sun rose, the left-behind-family found the beach ball. The scrawled-upon plastic ball was their only connection with their dear friends.

As the story unfolds, the left-behind family was hurt and confused. No closure. No hugs. Not a chance to say a few words of encouragement and love. The void of connection was more difficult than the departure. A beach ball. 

This story was told to us as an example of what NOT to do. Don’t leave beach balls for goodbyes, people!

Saying goodbye is just plain hard. We know that we will most likely see our friends and family again – it isn’t a forever goodbye. But it stings nonetheless. I’m extremely relational – perhaps a bit overly sensitive. I really want to make sure that people know how much I love them, will miss them, how much they’ve meant to me…and I struggle to find adequate ways to communicate this! Especially amidst the chaos of packing and preparing to leave. There is so much to do! Sometimes the people part – the relational part – falls to the side.

I’m coming to grips with this fact: my best intentions will fall short in some way. Someone will be overlooked, will not get a hug. I’ll leave behind the dreaded beach ball in some way, I’m sure of it. And this kills me! My perfectionism tendencies are highlighted with so many important things in front us. (*sigh*) It’s time to take a deep breath, and accept grace.

Aren’t we all simply doing our best? Life is full of expectations and demands that go beyond our abilities. We must accept our limitations – and the limitations of others – with grace and humility.

We’ve got two weeks to go, and many boxes left to pack. I certainly hope I don’t leave the proverbial beach ball behind when we leave in a couple of weeks. But if I do, I’ll gladly accept your grace!

andy & nik edited

 

 

 

A New Look for our Blog

We thought it was time for a little update to the design of our blog – though the content is essentially the same. The “tabs” are now located at the left, where you can access more information about our life and ministry in N!ger.

You are able to sign up for our regular email updates by clicking on the family picture image in the left column, (which we call our “connect card”).

Lastly, here are a few pictures (below) of our recent fundraising events.

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(I know the picture above is an awkward photo of me, but I wanted to show you a new experience – sharing our ministry vision in a local coffee shop! Pretty cool!)

 

A Brave Question That Hits the Heart

We field a multitude of questions regularly. That is a big part of our “job” right now as we raise financial support for our return to N!ger. So, we truly welcome the dialogue! One question that has been repeated time and again is something like this: How will your ministry work in the cultural context of N!ger – with the Musl!m influence, and the traditional African influence, and the obvious fact that you are a white family from the affluent USA?

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The friends that pose this question are brave to ask – since this hits right at the heart of our whole intent to be there! The implications in that one question are diverse:

Why bother going to all the trouble if we are facing insurmountable obstacles?

Are we wasting our time, naively believing that a dent can be made in the reality of injustices that exist in N!ger?

Will the people listen to white folks who’ve experienced nothing of their hardships and their historical inequalities?

Is it worth the cost – financial and personal – to uproot our entire family to live there?

These questions motivate Andy and I to be prepared when we arrive in Niger – with materials we can share, to have a plan, anticipating the cultural barriers we will face.

Recently, though, I pondered this question longer than usual. I left our most recent event speculating why in the world we are naive enough to do this? I wasn’t questioning our calling to go, but I wondered why that question wasn’t stopping us in our tracks.

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I prayed about this.

I asked God to show me how to reconcile the audacious nature of our journey, with the reality of the obstacles we face. 

And he showed me something interesting, almost comical!

He posed this question to my heart – “Nikki, when you look at the Puget Sound bodies of water, would you have ever believed that a bridge could be built for cars to cross? Or, when you consider the incredible force and technology required for a man to fly to the moon, would you have believed it?”

I had to laugh! Because, I do actually wonder, as I am driving over the Narrows Bridge near our home, how in the world someone actually thought it was possible! Didn’t they see the obstacles? The impossibility of the task? How did they embark on such a ludicrous enterprise?

I’ve asked these things out loud. My family politely giggles at my curiosity.

In this March 27, 2013 aerial photo, the control tower and other facilities at the Tacoma Narrows Airport are shown in Gig Harbor, Wash. with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in the background. The planned closings of control towers at 149 small airports, including the Narrows, due to government-wide spending cuts, are being delayed until mid-June, federal regulators announced Friday, April 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

I realize there are countless wonders of the engineering world that I could mention here, but those were the things God brought to my mind. And it brought me to this realization: God gives us the faith to do the things He is asking of us. Plain and simple, it is God’s gift.

I am not deterred by the ridiculous nature of our ministry. I don’t lose sleep over whether or not the truth of God’s word will affect the people we meet in N!ger.  I simply know that God is going with us, and God’s Word will be our message, and God’s love is in our hearts, and to God be the Glory.

Love. Truth. Grace. Forgiveness. Freedom. How can this message not have an affect?

God has given us faith for the possibilities, rather than fear of impossibilities.

And He will lead someone else to build bridges and fly to the moon.

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Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”

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When Helping Hurts

On the bookshelf – (well, on my bedside table actually) – is a book I recently finished that I want to share with you. It is called “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

When helping hurts

The tag line says “How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself”.  Are you interested yet? Ha ha! Well I don’t blame you if it sounds boring, but let me tell you that I truly believe that every Christian should read this book!

Allow me to give you just a glimpse of why I make this bold statement.

The mission of the Church. The task of God’s people is rooted in Christ’s mission – particularly in spreading the good news among the hurting, the weak, and the poor. “Hence, it is not surprising that throughout history God’s people have been commanded to follow their King’s footsteps into places of brokenness.” (pg 37) This very truth is why many of you serve your communities, and for our family is why we are going to N!ger. Our God-given purpose is to serve and give our lives away for all people.

“Poverty” isn’t just about money. This book explains the true depth of the definition of poverty – that it has as much (if not more!) to do with relationships as it involves material wealth. I couldn’t possibly summarize those chapters here, but let me assure you that it was enlightening! In a nutshell, when the four foundational relationships – with God, with ourselves, with others, and with creation – are functioning properly, people are able to fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.

This means that you don’t have to be materially poor to experience poverty. And it also means that you may not be experiencing poverty even if you are materially poor. Money is not the core defining factor – relationships are!

Bringing “relief” is fun. Bringing “rehabilitation” is costly. And when I mean costly, I am not referring to dollars. I mean time, energy, and heart. You see, Christians see a need and immediately desire to fix it, to meet that need. If that person is thirsty, get them water! But…what if they can get water for themselves, but they just simply didn’t know how? Or what if they are thirsty because they wasted their water in some way? You see, providing RELIEF is to get the water. Providing rehabilitation is to teach and train and educate and disciple about water habits, water use, and water conservation. You’ve heard the old adage about giving a man a fish, versus teaching him how to fish? It’s the same idea, only adding a spiritual dimension.

The authors share in great detail how bringing relief is important at times, and then how crucial it is to move toward rehabilitation and ultimately development. All of this effort works toward reconciling broken relationships.

“One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make – by far – is in applying relief in situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.”

Some final thoughts. I’m thankful our mission agency required this reading. It has deeply encouraged me, affirming our call to this work in N!ger. You see, it is easy to argue that our work with marriages and families might seem “less important” than translating the Bible into new languages, planting new churches, or providing much-needed medical care.

No one has actually said this to us, but I admit that I’ve struggled with lies like those.

But when I think about the power of reconciliation,

the gospel of grace being lived out in homes by husbands and wives,

children honoring their parents and being truly discipled,

and the sheer joy of forgiveness in a person’s life…

When I think of these things, I realize that there is not a short term mission trip* which will provide the necessary investment of time, energy and heart to produce this. Our family is going to N!ger to share our lives with the people there, to help them learn “how to fish for themselves” when it comes to Biblical marriage and family issues.

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.     1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV)

*I love short term mission trips! Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe there is an important place for short term service – here and abroad – and our own family has benefited from short term teams coming to N!ger to help us in desperate situations. If you ever have a chance to serve on a short term mission trip – do it! But read this book first! 🙂

Mission Training International: July 2015

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We are in the final week of our training – linguistics, conflict resolution, culture transition and so much more! What a whirlwind of activity and information – the proverbial “fire hose” – filling our minds and hearts with truth that is preparing us for our lives on the mission field.

Here is a brief update on this faith journey for our family:

  • We are registered for one year of French language study in Canada, starting in January 2016.
  • We will continue to live in Tacoma, WA until we depart for language school.
  • Our fundraising continues! We have reached 90% of our one-time needs, and 60% of our monthly needs. We are right on time and thankful for these next few months to reach our goals.
  • With God’s direction and provision, we will be back in N!ger by January 2017! 

Have you ever attempted to DO SOMETHING that required years of commitment to accomplish? A college degree? Paying off a debt? Mending a relationship?

I sometimes ponder if all of this effort and dreaming and praying and training and asking for help and believing is ever going to get us there?

It is a marathon! Is it just me? Is persevering just. plain. hard. work? I have to admit I am pretty weary of this phase of preparation for our ministry in N!ger. I just want to get there and start learning and start serving! Go go go!

What is that old saying… “Good things come to those who wait”? Or “Anything worth having is worth fighting for”? (something like that!)

I guess it’s time for me to have my own saying! How about this:

Obedience to God produces peace in my life, no matter how long it takes!

“You will keep in perfect peace, him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3

So…. ONWARD!